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Events, Medical Education, Stanford News

TEDMED, in pictures

TEDMED, in pictures

A group of MD and PhD students represented Stanford at TEDMED 2015, which was held last week. Several students have written about their experiences on Scope, and here now are some of their photos from the two-and-a-half-day event.

More photos of Stanford Medicine events, people and places can be found on Instagram.

Photos by Eric Trac, Afaaf Shakir, Chao Long, Lichy Han and Thomas Chew

Big data, Clinical Trials, Events, Research

At TEDMED 2015: Benign drugs? Not under the lens of big data

At TEDMED 2015: Benign drugs? Not under the lens of big data

This year’s TEDMED was held Nov. 18-20 in Palm Springs, Calif. Stanford Medicine is a medical research institution partner of TEDMED, and a group of MD and PhD students who represented Stanford at the conference will be sharing their experiences here.

xCUEHR0MrJlqiC9phSMFFEjCxjrDDo54Bv0Hc18sYdkPicture this: you go to the doctor and find out that your cholesterol is high. Your doctor prescribes you a medication taken by millions of Americans for lowering cholesterol – Pravastatin. A few months later, you see your doctor again because of persistent depression, and again, you are given a commonly prescribed medication – Paxil.

Russ Altman, MD, PhD, opened his 2015 TEDMED talk with this seemingly innocuous scenario. But through the course of his talk, Altman demonstrated how his lab leveraged big data to reveal the adverse side effects of supposedly benign pharmacological interventions.

When choosing medications for my patients during my clinical rotations, I would often cite evidence from randomized controlled trials about the clinical benefits versus the risks of that particular drug. However, this evidence-based medicine has one major limitation: In clinical studies, patients are usually only on one drug.

My patients, on the other hand, would often come in with bags full of prescription bottles in order to show me which drugs they took, since there were too many medication names to memorize. Often, I found myself wondering quietly, “Is there any way to know if combining these drugs could lead to an adverse event?”

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Events, Medicine and Society

At TEDMED 2015: Behind the glitz, substantive issues

At TEDMED 2015: Behind the glitz, substantive issues

This year’s TEDMED was held Nov. 18-20 in Palm Springs, Calif. Stanford Medicine is a medical research institution partner of TEDMED, and a group of MD and PhD students who represented Stanford at the conference will be sharing their experiences here. 

TEDMED stage - Lichy HanI admit, I was skeptical heading into the TEDMED conference.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching TED talks online, and I often listen to Guy Raz on the TED Radio Hour.

However, I’ve always viewed TED primarily as a source of entertainment, a chance to hear fascinating  personal adventures, and the popular science stories that fill us with awe. I’ve thought much less of TED as an entity that could create new knowledge, value and impact beyond storytelling and the occasional self-help guidance.

I’m happy to say that I was wrong.

TED has come under fire from some who paint it as a self-congratulatory echo-chamber of the wealthy elite that counter-productively obfuscates the missions of many speakers by burying their messages in flashy but ultimately meaningless evangelism – “things that make us feel good but which don’t work.” And while, having never attended, I couldn’t share these convictions, the curmudgeon in me could see the logic behind them.

To some extent, those concerns were realized. General admission was $5,000. Speakers were edgily rebranded as “superheroes” or “shepherds,” the kind of visionary titles that might be parodied in an episode of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” The conference opened with a rock concert and a talk with a main takeaway that seemed to be that female baboons use their male counterparts as sexual objects. There are certainly many important issues embedded in that discussion, but the sensationalist, intentionally provocative delivery came across more Cosmo than Betty Friedan. Sex sells, it seems, even at medical conferences.

But what is it that we’re buying – and is it worth it? I believe so.

As a powerhouse of distributing ideas globally, TED has a social duty to promote not only those ideas that entertain and those that inspire, but also those that disgust, those that depress, and those that make us appreciate. With all eyes upon it, TED can bring some of the most difficult and sensitive, but necessary, topics to the forefront of the conversation.

In particular, I was impressed at the spotlight placed on mental health, an often downplayed and taboo topic that is nevertheless a core element of our profession and school, and my own experiences, friends, and hometown. Pamela Wible, MD, narrated horrifying letters of physician suicide, illustrating great failures in our medical training system. Without TED, few attendees would ever be exposed to these realities. Melissa Walker shared what it was like to have PTSD, and how art therapy could empower veterans to heal when drugs and counseling failed. The Surgeon General himself, Vivek Murthy, MD, chose to focus his TEDMED time on the importance of mindfulness and stress reduction in improving physical and psychiatric outcomes in middle school children.

Many speakers raised concerns about issues ranging from eugenics to institutional racism in healthcare, but what struck me most was how frequently “this is a big problem…” was answered immediately with “…and here’s what we’ve done to fix it…” Activist Raj Patel described how uprooting traditional gender roles was necessary to solve food shortages in Malawi. Bryant Terry recounted teaching nutritional programs to disadvantaged teens in New York. Kenneth Nealson, PhD, a USC professor, and engineer Peter Janicki described new economically sustainable methods that turn sewage and garbage into clean drinking water. All were clear to end with the message “…but there’s a ways to go.”

Is some of the TEDMED glamorization over the top? Absolutely. Are all of the ideas going to radically change the world? Maybe not. But TED has the power to bring people together to share their ideas, to collaborate on new ones, and to showcase their vulnerabilities, failures and unsolved challenges to each other and to the world. That in itself is an idea worth spreading.

Brian Hsueh is an MD/PhD student in neuroscience and bioengineering. He spends his days working on new technologies to understand and treat diseases of the brain, and his nights trying to find economically feasible ways to bring those technologies to patients.

Photo by Lichy Han

Big data, Events, Science

At TEDMED 2015: Using data to maximize human potential

This year’s TEDMED was held Nov. 18-20 in Palm Springs, Calif. Stanford Medicine is a medical research institution partner of TEDMED, and a group of MD and PhD students who represented Stanford at the conference will be sharing their experiences here. 

A tall, striking woman walked out onto the TEDMED stage. Energetically and confidently, Vivienne Ming, PhD, a theoretical neuroscientist and entrepreneur, went on to tell us about her passion for optimizing human potential utilizing big data.

There are many examples where Ming has used data for social good, such as matching refugees to their families with image-recognition software, but here at TEDMED she discussed personalized education. By looking for trends and patterns in classroom data, she has built an educational tool that predicts a child’s grade trajectory in the class and then chooses the highest impact personalized intervention for each individual student. Using data-science techniques to study society and education, Ming dazzles us with the possibilities of data in improving our capacity to reach our individual potentials.

Ming completely upended my view on data science in social issues

As a graduate student applying these same techniques to the field of genomics, I was intrigued. My understanding of data science applied to the social sciences, such as in the field of economics, was that the modeling remained fairly straightforward and simple: Understandable models were very important for the social sciences, and complex data-science models were not very interpretable. As a medical student, I found this frustrating – my interests lay both in cutting-edge computational advances as well as empathy for human suffering, and I couldn’t figure out how to apply my data-science skills beyond the world of science to answer questions of social and health inequalities.

Ming completely upended my view on data science in social issues. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to chat with her the next day, and I asked her about the computational work, as I was curious how complex her models really could be. She displayed a wonderful technical capacity and a deep understanding of how to choose the right algorithms for the social problems at hand. Granted, it’s still not common to find such imaginative interdisciplinary work combining cutting-edge computer science work and social science work. But Ming showed me a world of possibility around bringing data skills into improving everything from hiring to education to gender equality. I came away impressed, inspired, and excited about the possibilities of utilizing my own skills in the world beyond genomics.

Working at the intersection of two fields can be extremely challenging to impossible. And it’s particularly tricky to apply the latest data-science methods to societal questions. As such, to be able to intelligently and thoughtfully do the two together is an art – and Ming is a master of the important intersection where computation meets humanity.

Daniel Kim is a fifth-year MD/PhD student at Stanford. He studies biomedical informatics and genomics and is interested in all things data-related.

Events, Research, Science, Technology

At TEDMED 2015: Thinking about “breaking through” the valley of death in science

At TEDMED 2015: Thinking about "breaking through" the valley of death in science

This year’s TEDMED was held Nov. 18-20 in Palm Springs, Calif. Stanford Medicine is a medical research institution partner of TEDMED, and a group of MD and PhD students who represented Stanford at the conference will be sharing their experiences here. 

“I am #BreakingThrough the ‘valley of death.’”

That’s what I wore on my nametag last week at TEDMED. The theme of this year’s conference was “Breaking Through,” and every delegate was asked to write a brief statement that illustrates an area of health care that they’re most passionate about.

The “valley of death” refers to the vast gap in the landscape of biomedical therapeutic development between academia and industry. Traditionally, an academic institution and industry have played two separate but equally important roles in the lengthy and expensive process of bringing new medical innovations to the patient. Academic researchers investigate new mechanisms, pathways and methods, making discoveries that yield promise. Industry then takes these experimental innovations and conducts product development, safety profiling, clinical trials, and manufacturing and distribution, ensuring that extensively tested, safe and efficacious products are widely made available.

However, this transition between academia and industry is not always a smooth one. The pharmaceutical industry is notorious for its extreme risk aversion with new products – and with an average cost of $1B, a 10-year path to FDA approval, and a failure rate north of 95 percent, who can blame them? Meanwhile, most academic labs are neither equipped to nor interested in spending the resources to conduct important yet labor-intensive preclinical work (which, quite frankly, won’t help a scientist graduate, secure tenure, or win a Nobel Prize). And so, because of this, potentially beneficial therapeutics are liable to languish in the valley of death between discovery and human trials.

On Thursday, Stanford professor Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, took the TEDMED stage to describe her own experience crossing that valley on the TED stage. In the early 2000s her lab had discovered a novel class of compounds for reducing cardiac injury after heart attack. After receiving universal rejections from pharma companies that they hoped would license the compounds, Mochly-Rosen and one of her graduate students reluctantly took matters into their own hands, left the university, and started KAI Therapeutics to bring their compounds into clinical trials. Long story short, they were eventually wildly successful and acquired by Amgen after demonstrating efficacy in Phase II clinical trials. The experience drove Mochly-Rosen to start the Stanford’s SPARK program, which offers a variety of resources – including classes, industry mentors and grants – to help scientists here survive their own journeys through the valley of death.

As a scientist developing new potential tools for diagnosis and therapy, and as someone who works frequently with early-stage life science companies, I spend a disturbing amount of time thinking about the valley of death. But to me, the valley is much deeper and wider than what it means for pharmaceutical development. It spans similar challenges in medical devices, diagnostics, and even digital health solutions.

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Events, Genetics, Research, Science

At TEDMED 2015: How microbiome studies could improve the future of humanity

At TEDMED 2015:  How microbiome studies could improve the future of humanity

This year’s TEDMED was held Nov. 18-20 in Palm Springs, Calif. Stanford Medicine is a medical research institution partner of TEDMED, and a group of MD and PhD students who represented Stanford at the conference will be sharing their experiences here. 

TEDMED scholarsOne of the highlights at TEDMED for me was meeting and hearing from Chris Mason, PhD, a Weill Cornell Medical College researcher in epigenetics. This is my field of study, so I was excited to talk to someone deeply involved in the world of genomics. Mason was an engaging and fast talking speaker, with a great sense of humor. And I soon discovered that, while he was doing the same sort of work and analysis that I was doing, his samples are incredibly unique.

While I work on primary cell types across the human body, Mason has interesting questions about the microbiome surrounding our body. The cells that make up the microbiome actually outnumber human cells ten times over – and scientists are increasingly gaining an understanding of how the microbiome, individual and personal to each and every person, can have a unique impact on human health and wellness. Mason, knowing this, began to look for interesting and unique ones that could tell us about how these microbiomes could be enhanced and utilized for improving our human lives.

Mason sequenced microbial cells that were gathered from subway riders around the world, and he discovered that about half of the cells discovered were not known microbial species. Literally under our feet, as Mason puts it, there is a world of diversity to explore and the possibility of discovering new antibiotics and cures to disease. But then Mason also went in the other direction – up! – and collected samples from astronauts in space. Now he has access to more than 8,000 samples of astronaut samples (let your imagination wander on what they saved) for a study of the human body in extreme environments.

During Mason’s talk on the last day of the conference, provocatively described by TEDMED organizers as a discussion of how his work is being done “in the interest of humanity’s interplanetary survival,” he touched on the subway experiments as well as the astronaut work, and then tied it all together by talking about the future of humanity. For Mason, an understanding of biology, both microbial and human, is the natural next step in humans’ progress to the stars and beyond. Genetic engineering is already here and will continue to grow as a technology, and he suggested we use it to extend our reach to the moon and beyond. The microbiome could be altered to protect us from UV radiation in space or to help us adapt to new planets, for example. Think of it as an astronaut suit, but biological, he suggested.

Mason’s thoughts may be controversial, depending on what you think about genetics, but he has clearly thought very hard about what new biological technologies mean for humanity’s future. It’s unknown whether the future will develop as Mason has envisioned it, but his work will likely be influential nonetheless.

Daniel Kim is a fifth-year MD/PhD student at Stanford. He studies biomedical informatics and genomics and is interested in all things data-related.

Photo of the author (second from left) and three other TEDMED scholars, from Lichy Han

Chronic Disease, Events, Stanford News

A reminder before World Diabetes Day: “We need more people educated about the disease”

A reminder before World Diabetes Day: “We need more people educated about the disease"

Bay Area native Anna Simos had always been the healthy one in her family — never a candy eater, she said — but, at 15, she was diagnosed with what had been the traditional family illness: diabetes. “My grandmother and uncle had Type 1 diabetes and my father Type 2, so with that diagnosis, I knew what it meant,” she said. “It was sobering and I knew there was no easy way out.” She remembers that day quite clearly. “The doctor brought in a syringe with insulin and told me to give myself a shot. I asked him how many times do I do this every day? Probably four to six, he said. I was not happy.”

Over the years, and through a pancreas and two kidney transplants, Simos learned how to balance her diet, lifestyle, medications and essential medical equipment to live a life with Type 1 diabetes. “I had figured it out for myself, but I began meeting others with diabetes and I decided I would do something with this on-the-job training.” She also earned a master’s degree in public health and a master’s degree in the epidemiology of diabetes.

She received so much of her medical care at Stanford Health Care, she began to dream about what she could do to help there, too. Today, Simos, now a certified diabetes educator and diabetes clinical research coordinator at Stanford, will see one of her combined personal and professional goals met: Stanford Health Care’s first Diabetes Prevention and Wellness Health Fair, being held today in recognition of the upcoming World Diabetes Day.

The fair is a free, public event, and Charlie Kimball, a Formula 1 Indy car driver who has diabetes, will be there to talk about how his experience living with diabetes. Among the other features of the event: Fifteen non-profits and vendors, clinicians from Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health, and other diabetes education experts will offer free risk assessments, updates on diabetes care technology, food demonstrations and nutrition education. “Everyone’s coming together for the first time,” Simos said. “You’re going to learn something if you come, because it’s not just about diabetes — it’s also about prevention.”

Simos is pushed by the numbers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 387 million adults have a form of diabetes. About 86 million American adults— more than 1 in 3 are pre-diabetic. That condition, defined by blood sugar levels that are above normal but not high enough for a Type 2 diagnosis, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. “Diabetes and pre-diabetes are at epidemic levels,” Simos said. She knows how much easier it is to make the dietary and behavior changes than to develop the disease and possibly suffer the worst of its consequences. “We want to help prevent the transplant, the amputation, the blindness — that we can turn around with care,” she said. “We need more people educated about the disease. If we can just get people to start thinking about their risk factors, we can take a different approach to diabetes: prevention.”

Previously: A conversation about the diabetes epidemic and The role of nutrition in diabetes prevention and management
Photo, of Anna Simos meeting with patient Ed Grey earlier this week, by Norbert von der Groeben

Events, Medical Education, Science

To boost diversity in academia, “true grit” is needed

To boost diversity in academia, "true grit" is needed

photo (1)With evangelical fervor, Freeman Hrabowski, PhD, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), challenged the School of Medicine to tackle inequality throughout its ranks, an effort that — if successful — could spill out to benefit society at large.

“It takes effort, being proactive, not being defensive, and being honest and transparent,” Hrabowski told a packed crowd here yesterday. His talk was the part of the Dean’s Lecture Series, which is focused on diversity.

A mathematician, Hrabowski is a national leader in the field of science education and is author of the recently published book, Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering youth from the Civil Rights crusade to STEM achievement. He was incarcerated during a Civil Rights march in the 1960s and currently campaigns for inclusiveness at all levels of academia.

Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, lauded Hrabowski: “Personally, I have found Freeman to be an enormous source of inspiration, advice and of wisdom in my leadership career. He is an exceedingly wise leader, who measures his leadership by the lives that he impacts.”

Confronting entrenched notions about race and gender and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) won’t be easy, Hrabowski admitted. He said it requires “true grit,” which is also the name of his university’s retriever mascot, True Grit.

One of the most critical points is the first undergraduate science course that high-achieving students take, he said. At UMBC, staff have created a new chemistry center and reorganized the curriculum. It’s also important to upend the cutthroat atmosphere in STEM fields and promote teamwork and cooperation, he said.

As a top institution, Stanford has a responsibility to promote diversity and inclusiveness, Hrabowski told the audience.

“When people look back at Stanford Medicine 100 years from now, who will they say you are?” Hrabowski asked. “The problems we face are more difficult than ever. The challenge is to keep learning and struggling with the issues.”

Previously: Intel’s Rosalind Hudnell kicks off Dean’s Lecture Series on diversity, Former Brown University President Ruth Simmons challenges complacency on diversity and Diversity is initial focus of new Stanford lecture series
Photo by Becky Bach

Bioengineering, Events, Mental Health, Research, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth talks about the work he was “destined to do”

Stanford's Karl Deisseroth talks about the work he was "destined to do"

Earlier this week we announced the exciting news that Stanford bioengineer Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, had won a $3 million 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Before he took the stage to accept his award during a star-studded Academy Awards-like ceremony Sunday evening, the video above was shown to highlight the significance of his work. One of Deissoroth’s quotes:

There are deep questions about the brain that may never be answered, but we’re making headway with optogenetics… We’re headed down a path that gets us to understanding [questions like] why does one person feel the way they do and why does it create a disease when they do a particular way, and what can be done to correct it?

Noting that the suffering of people with psychiatric disease “is a very, very serious and pervasive matter,” he also says “the nature of the illnesses – their complexity, the amount of suffering and the mystery – has made this what I was destined to do.”

Previously: Stanford bioengineer Karl Deisseroth wins 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life SciencesInside the brain of optogenetics pioneer Karl DeisserothLightning strikes twice: Optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth’s newest technique renders tissues transparent, yet structurally intact and An in-depth look at the career of Stanford’s Karl Deisseroth, “a major name in science”
Video courtesy of National Geographic Channel

Aging, Events, Stanford News, Videos

Former medical school dean discusses learning and longevity at Stanford 125 event

Former medical school dean discusses learning and longevity at Stanford 125 event

The year-long celebrations for Stanford University’s 125th anniversary are in full swing, and Philip Pizzo, MD, former dean of Stanford’s medical school, recently helped kick off the festivities. Earlier this month, he and experts in the fields of psychology, computer science, education, physics and the humanities drew a crowd of more than 550 people to Stanford’s Cemex Auditorium to discuss the theme “Thinking Big About Learning.”

In his talk, Pizzo, founding director of the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, explored the topics of learning, aging and longevity and how traditional views of education and career (learn when young and do the same job for life) no longer apply now that people are living and working longer than ever.

If you missed the event, you can watch video of Pizzo’s talk here. Other videos from the symposium, including talks from Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, PhD, and Jeremy Bailenson, PhD, director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, are available on the Stanford 125 website.

Previously: Living long and living well: A conversation on longevity at Medicine XA look at aging and longevity in this “unprecedented” time in history and Living loooooooonger: A conversation on longevity


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